(photo of portraits of Maggie and me facing each-other)
I had longed for years to make sculpture. When I was about 10, some school friends and I had once dug handfuls of clay from a ditch. I shaped my clay into a flat disc and added a face in profile, like a coin. I can still remember the exciting impact of the three-dimensional shapes swelling up from the background. Six years or so later, I was very proud of a small seated female nude I modelled from imagination, using some clay from the school’s Pottery Club. Without an armature to support the wet clay, it cracked apart as it dried. But this had fed my desire to make sculpture, one day.
(press clipping: ‘Heads it’s Bernard’)
That day arrived in 1970 when I went to teach in Wolverhampton, where I was lucky to find a thriving Adult Education sculpture class taught by Charlie Ward, who had been a coalminer to the age of 43. Taught by sculptor Ron Dutton, he had become an evangelist for the art of sculpture. We learned how to stop our masterpieces in wet clay from collapsing under their own weight, how to take plaster of Paris moulds from the clay, and how make castings. I made a number of family portraits, and Charlie called the local paper to the annual class exhibition.
I wanted to experiment with a larger scale, and, working at home, made “Leaping Form”, a relief sculpture to be hung overlooking the stairs in our house. I modelled it in clay, made a mould in plaster of Paris and made my first casting in Glass Reinforced Polyester resin (GRP). Two years later, I used the same the materials I used to cast my ‘Mask of Solzhenitsyn’.
Before that, I had made a life-sized portrait of my wife Margaret, pregnant with our first child, an image inspired by Rembrandt’s drawings and paintings of his wife, Saskia. This, and two half-life-sized sculptures of her pregnant, marked the beginning of my series of work on Birth and Family.